Nine Simple Ways to Contemplate Death – Buddhistdoor Global
In the Abhaya Sutta (AN 4.84), a Brahman named Janussonin tells the Buddha that he believes that anyone subject to death is absolutely terrified of death. He doesn’t believe that anyone can face death without fear. The Buddha agrees that there are those who are afraid of death. And there are those who do not live in terror of death. And then he teaches the difference between those who have overcome their fear of death and those who have not. Spoiler alert: clinging, craving, unskillful actions and doubting the teachings lead to frightening deaths. Letting go of attachment, living a life of good deeds and trusting the Dhamma is the path to a peaceful death.
The Buddha teaches attention to death in the Maranasati Sutta (AN 6.19). In the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10), he used the contemplation of the charnel ground to remind monks that their bodies are subject to breaking and dissolving, and therefore clinging to the body should be avoided. These are not light lessons. Nor should they be.
Getting to the point where you can consciously recognize that death can happen before you finish reading this sentence takes effort. You know it’s worth it.
“The perception of death, when developed and pursued, is of great fruit, of great benefit. He takes a foothold in the Immortal, has the Immortal as his ultimate end: “Thus it was said, and in reference to this was it said.
If you’re like me, some days a deep dive into the suttas just isn’t within reach. Or you might benefit from other ways to feel comfortable with death. It can be helpful to spend time understanding the beliefs you have about death and dying. And to notice the emotions that arise for you when you contemplate death.
Here are nine thoughts on death. You can use them as mantras, as meditation objects, or as a way to start thoughtful discussions with your family or friends. I invite you to review this list and add to or subtract from it in a way that supports you in your own practice.
1. Death is inevitable. You to know it intellectually. Do you know this as part of your inner wisdom? Can you think about this and not be disturbed? You know, one plus one is two, everybody dies, two plus two is four, I will die too. Each of these sentences are facts, but even if you don’t like math, the sentences everyone dies and I will die too are probably the sentences that make you feel uncomfortable.
2. Death can seem capricious. When your 100-year-old grandmother dies, you can easily make sense of it. But there is also the newborn or the new father who made the wrong intersection. There will be death, and beyond knowing that all living creatures die can defy logic or your sense of fairness. Stop expecting logic and fairness. Remember that every living being has its own karma.
3. Death is normal. Breathing is a normal bodily function, and it is also normal to eventually stop breathing. This does not mean that it should be trivialized. Normal does not mean insignificant. The death of someone you love has an impact. And the good news is that since death is not unknown, you live in a world where medical, financial, emotional, and spiritual support systems are in place to guide you.
4. Death is an integral part of life. Humans have many different stages. And most of them are recognized and celebrated. In most cultures, we help children prepare to become adults and we help adults develop to raise their children. Sometimes we help prepare each other to become seniors. But too often we leave out the discussion and the preparation for death. This is why so many people are surprised by death.
5. Death is like a snowflake. No two are the same. Each death is precious and unique. There are so many things we don’t see. Most of the time we see the outward result; a heart stops beating, the breath stops. But each person has a unique last moment. Your ability to help someone experience peace in their final moment is invaluable.
6. Life is precious, death too. Those who live with an acceptance of death die with fewer regrets. Death teaches us not to waste time. Death teaches us not to get drawn into petty squabbles.
seven. Death is neither bad nor bad. Take this as an invitation to practice equanimity. Starting with this short statement is a big step.
8. There’s more than one way to celebrate a life. Now is not the time for you and your family to argue over prayers, songs, and memorial services. Just be flexible and celebrate your loved one in the best possible way.
9. Everyone grieves differently. Work on being non-judgmental. I saw loving, crying, praying, laughing and much more. The best advice? Don’t hurt yourself or others. Be patient and practice self-compassion. Even those who prepare for death will experience grief.
The goal is that by contemplating these ideas, you will become less fearful and more comfortable. As you go through the list, pay attention to your initial reactions to each one. What surfaces? Do you feel resistance, anger, fear, sadness, anything else? What’s going on in your body? You could even keep a journal, write down your responses to the statements that elicit your strongest feelings, and figure out why some of the statements are easy for you to process.
Every day you can work to develop and pursue your perception of death. Some days you will have the time and energy to go into a deep practice of mindfulness of death. When that is not possible for you, work with thoughts like the list provided here to continue to grow and make your death practice even more accessible.
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